NGSS & Citizen Science

Birds of a Feather: Next Generation Science Standards and Citizen Science

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and citizen science are birds of a feather. They both call for teachers to guide students through science practice experienced in the real world.  BirdSleuth has a long history of supporting applicable, real world science in the classroom with citizen science and inquiry. These opportunities encourage students to learn science by doing science.  While inquiry offers strong advantages for science education, for now we will focus on citizen science as a way for student science skills to soar and meet the performance expectations of science standards.

NGSS and citizen science both offer structure for achieving the exploratory nature of science in the classroom. By encouraging discovery and real-world connection, both support developing the scientifically literate minds of the future. However, NGSS isn’t a curriculum but rather an intricate set of guidelines that helps teachers know what concepts and skills they should teach. Teachers decide how to integrate the standards into their educational programming. Infusing citizen science into K-12 classrooms to reach NGS standards can be low-hanging fruit for teachers, because an array of curricula and lessons already exist. We’re now working to directly tie our materials and resources to the NGS standards. If you haven’t used citizen science yet, maybe now is the time to add it to your flock of science teaching strategies. Here are some ways BirdSleuth can help…

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Habitat Connections

A curriculum designed to connect habitats, students, and standards

From habitat investigation to modeling migration, our Habitat Connections curriculum provides enriching context for NGSS. The curriculum emphasizes active learning through activities such as pretending to be a migrating bird avoiding obstacles to survival and participating in citizen-science projects. With lessons directly tied to NGSS, Habitat Connections is a great way to not only meet the standards, but also to demonstrate to your students that they can apply these concepts to the natural world around them.





book cover

15 Lessons to Bring Biology to Life

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Education Director, Nancy Trautmann and K-12 Program Manager Jennifer Fee have collaborated on Citizen Science: 15 Lessons That Bring Biology to Life.  In addition to ample background about the “hows, what’s, and why’s” of citizen science, the book contains 15 citizen-science lessons.  A wide variety of projects are highlighted in the book, from whale song to soil invertebrates, from ozone biomonitoring to bird migration.  You can order the book and download an eBird lesson as a free sample.  In the appendix of the book, the lesson connections to NGSS are laid out for your convenience.



MWB kit

Most Wanted Birds

A full curriculum to make your students scientists

Our Most Wanted Birds kit prepares students to conduct eBird citizen science. It is comprised of six lessons which will help you build students’ observation and identification skills so that they can understand how to collect, contribute, and work with real-world data. This kit will help you meet many of the Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting concepts of the NGS standards, using birds and your local environment as the inspiration. Even if you are a beginning birder, the kit will make you successful in your citizen-science efforts!



Why not give it a try?

Citizen science provides educators an established outlet for real scientific practice and application that align with NGSS.  The developers of the NGS standards have stated that, “As in all inquiry-based approaches to science teaching, our expectation is that students will themselves engage in the practices and not merely learn about them secondhand.  Students cannot comprehend scientific practices, nor fully appreciate the nature of scientific knowledge itself, without directly experiencing those practices for themselves.”(1)  The NGS standards aims for students to have hands on learning experience and actually practice science rather than be told about it.

Let’s return to the flock analogy for a moment and talk about synergy.  In a flock of migrating Canada Geese there is a lot going on. Flying in “V” formation, the birds are honking to one another to communicate, they are aligned at an angle that allows them to become more streamlined, and the more experienced birds take turns at the lead since they are strongest and more experienced at migration.  By working together, the flock achieves a greater distance more effectively than one would individually.  You can let citizen science take some of the headwind when you want to teach about life science and human impacts.  The NGSS are standards (and not curriculum) which are intended to guide K-12 science education towards reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of science in the world and as it applies to everyday life.  You can go the distance with NGSS by pairing it with citizen science: if you fly with citizen science, your journey with NGSS will be a smoother one!

What’s your experience with Citizen Science and its connection to NGSS? We’d like to see your thoughts in the comments! 


  1. NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Sample DCIs supported by citizen science:

  • Life Science: 3-LS2  Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified and used to explain change. Groups may serve different functions and vary dramatically in size.
  • Earth Science: 3-ESS2 Patterns of change can be used to make predictions.
  • Earth Science: 5-ESS3-1  Humans activities affect the surrounding environment.  Individuals are doing things to help protect Earth’s resources and environments. Encourage people to look at media, books, and good resources to evaluate and communicate information.

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